"Boys will be boys" while girls are "pretty in pink"

We still have a long way to go towards changing attitudes of society.

My nephew turned eight recently and I struggled to find him a birthday card that didn’t have football images on it. I visited several shops and they were all football-focused. I would like to say I was shocked but it wasn’t a surprise.

On International Women’s Day, we can and should encourage young girls and young women to dream, aspire and achieve. However, it’s essential we deal with the stereotyping of boys or else girls will forever face barriers, direct and indirect discrimination and will always "naturally" assume the bulk of caring responsibilities.

From an early age girls are channelled down the pink aisle and boys down the blue. Social pressure forces "choices" about clothes, toys, sports and hobbies. In the run up to Christmas, when toy advertisements escalate to frenzy point, the typecasting is evident. Girls are shown playing with crying dolls, as boys play with trucks and guns.  

Toy promotion is probably the least subtle form of consumer manipulation in the advertising industry. But it isn’t enough to say that parents, grandparents and indulgent aunts should change their buying choices. Recently in Sweden, a toy company was forced to revamp the way it advertises toys to boys and girls. Top Toy was told by the Swedish regulator to stop stereotyping in its advertising. As a result the company’s 2012 Christmas catalogue showed boys playing with a pink ironing board set and girls playing with a Nerf rifle. Personally, I’m not keen on children of either sex playing with guns but it’s a step in the right direction.

Beyond toys and clothing, a shift in media portrayal of girls and boys is overdue. The media’s early insistence on describing the late Reeva Steenkamp as ‘Pistorius’ girlfriend’ rather than naming her and the Sun’s disturbing portrayal of her in a bikini with the headline "3 shots. Screams. Silence. 3 more shots" appeared to glamorise violence by men against women. This was particularly disturbing given the timing which the day after the "One Billion Rising" global campaign highlighted violence against women and girls.

Gender stereotyping prevails in every section of society. In light of the sexual harassment allegations against Lord Rennard, the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 interviewed female politicians who spoke about the male dominated culture in politics. It was effectively suggested by interviewees that any woman going in to politics "needs to get balls and fight off unwanted sexual attention because given half a chance boys will be boys". In short, men can’t help themselves. Frankly, this is both wrong and insulting to most men.

No wonder progress towards parity in Britain’s democratic institutions continues to be slow. Women’s comparative representation in the UK is falling internationally. At its peak in 2001, we were 33 rd  out of 190 countries in terms of female representation. Now we’re 60th .

Women still face entrenched economic inequality in the UK. Women are poorer on average than men with 64 per cent of low paid workers being women. Women in full-time work earn 14.9 per cent less than men. Women have personal pensions worth just 62 per cent of the average for men.

Legislation and government make a difference but can only go so far. We still have a long way to go towards changing attitudes of society. Collectively and as individuals we need to challenge the persistent and insidious gender stereotypes that tell us boys will be boys while girls remain passively pretty in pink.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Fiona Twycross is a London-wide Labour Assembly Member

A girl chooses a Barbie. Photograph: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
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What do Labour's lost voters make of the Labour leadership candidates?

What does Newsnight's focus group make of the Labour leadership candidates?

Tonight on Newsnight, an IpsosMori focus group of former Labour voters talks about the four Labour leadership candidates. What did they make of the four candidates?

On Andy Burnham:

“He’s the old guard, with Yvette Cooper”

“It’s the same message they were trying to portray right up to the election”​

“I thought that he acknowledged the fact that they didn’t say sorry during the time of the election, and how can you expect people to vote for you when you’re not actually acknowledging that you were part of the problem”​

“Strongish leader, and at least he’s acknowledging and saying let’s move on from here as opposed to wishy washy”

“I was surprised how long he’d been in politics if he was talking about Tony Blair years – he doesn’t look old enough”

On Jeremy Corbyn:

"“He’s the older guy with the grey hair who’s got all the policies straight out of the sixties and is a bit of a hippy as well is what he comes across as” 

“I agree with most of what he said, I must admit, but I don’t think as a country we can afford his principles”

“He was just going to be the opposite of Conservatives, but there might be policies on the Conservative side that, y’know, might be good policies”

“I’ve heard in the paper he’s the favourite to win the Labour leadership. Well, if that was him, then I won’t be voting for Labour, put it that way”

“I think he’s a very good politician but he’s unelectable as a Prime Minister”

On Yvette Cooper

“She sounds quite positive doesn’t she – for families and their everyday issues”

“Bedroom tax, working tax credits, mainly mum things as well”

“We had Margaret Thatcher obviously years ago, and then I’ve always thought about it being a man, I wanted a man, thinking they were stronger…  she was very strong and decisive as well”

“She was very clear – more so than the other guy [Burnham]”

“I think she’s trying to play down her economics background to sort of distance herself from her husband… I think she’s dumbing herself down”

On Liz Kendall

“None of it came from the heart”

“She just sounds like someone’s told her to say something, it’s not coming from the heart, she needs passion”

“Rather than saying what she’s going to do, she’s attacking”

“She reminded me of a headteacher when she was standing there, and she was quite boring. She just didn’t seem to have any sort of personality, and you can’t imagine her being a leader of a party”

“With Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham there’s a lot of rhetoric but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of direction behind what they’re saying. There seems to be a lot of words but no action.”

And, finally, a piece of advice for all four candidates, should they win the leadership election:

“Get down on your hands and knees and start praying”

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.